pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love Out Loud

Reading: Psalm 37: 1-6

Verses 5 & 6: “Commit your way to the Lord… He will make your righteousness shine like the sun”.

David had a lot of experiences with evil in his life. He spent time in hiding several times – first because Saul was filled with an evil spirit and later as king when power hungry sons tried to prematurely seize the throne. David also dealt with the evil in his own heart with the sin around Bathsheba taking center stage. And yet, more than anything, David was known as a man after God’s own heart. He was the greatest king Israel ever had. The many Psalms he wrote pour out his love for God and speak of the deep and intimate relationship that David had with God. Today’s reading is a good example of these things.

Our Psalm for today begins with the reality that evil exists but does not last. Evil men soon wither and die. They are often consumed from within, never finding peace or contentment in the things of this world. Instead, David encourages us to trust in God and to delight in God. When we choose to do this, we find that our heart is filled with peace, joy, happiness, contentment. God’s ways become our desires. The things of this world do fade and lose their attraction. David goes on to write, “Commit your way to the Lord… He will make your righteousness shine like the sun”. When we commit to the Lord we profess Jesus as our Lord and Savior. In trust we place Him on the throne of our hearts.

When we, like David, commit to loving God with all of our heart, we too find blessings in our lives. We are not immune to sin or to the temptations that come from the things of this world. We will still fall and sin. Yet we know of the saving power of Jesus Christ. David knew God as a loving God and as a God of mercy and grace. In Christ all this remains true. But through Christ we also know that the price has been paid for our sins. Once and for all, Jesus defeated the power of sin. Through His blood we have been freed and are redeemed. Forgiveness is the gift of the cross.

When we allow God’s love to flow from us out into the lives of those we meet, then righteousness does shine. It is not our righteousness, but Christ’s. Yet through us others can see and experience Jesus’ love and light and presence… This is how others can come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior too. Each day may we seek to live His love out loud in our lives, bringing others into Jesus’ love. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Father God, help me to love you with all that I am today. This is how Jesus loves me. May I model that agape love to all I meet today. Amen.

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Choose Love

Reading: Genesis 45: 3-7

Verse 5: “For God sent me before you to preserve life”.

Today’s passage is part of a familiar story. As we pick it up today, Joseph has been in Egypt a long time and has risen to the second place in the kingdom – second only to Pharoah. But it has not been an easy ascent. He has been a slave, has been falsely accused, and has spent time in prison. And he has been blessed over and over by God. Now the brothers who sold him into slavery stand before him begging for some food. Famine has struck the lands far and wide.

Joseph may have felt a twinge to extract a little payback from these brothers of his. A lesser man might have chosen revenge. But God has been at work in Joseph’s life for many years now. Each trial and suffering that he has been through has refined and developed his trust in God. No matter how bad things seemed to be, God has always seen Joseph through. So as he looks back on the events of his early life, when he had those dreams and when his own brothers sold him off into slavery, Joseph can see the overarching hand of God at work. He says to his brothers, who are fearing the worst: “God sent me here before you to preserve life”. It was God – not you – who sent me to Egypt. It was God’s plan all along that it would work out just like this. It is pretty amazing to see the story through God’s eyes.

In our lives we too come to these moments. We come to these crossroads where we can choose love or hate, where we can choose to forgive or to hold onto our anger. Our faith calls us to choose love and to extend mercy every time. Every time. Our faith calls us to lay aside our own hurts and to offer healing. Every time. We may feel like we have the right to be mad or hurt or to strike back. Not so. Never. We are people of love and light and hope and mercy. Always. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Lord, when it is hard, grant me the courage to lay aside my anger and jealousy and bitterness. Help me to cling to light and love. Allow all I say and do to shine your glory out into the world. Amen.


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Where’s Your Bethlehems?

Reading: Micah 5: 2-5a

Verse 4: “He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord”.

Out of tiny Bethlehem will come the ruler of the world. Out of this small village will come Jesus Christ, the Lord. It is a great claim to fame for a really little place. In reality, it is a small place in a small country. Israel today is only the size of a small state – closest to Massachusetts or New Hampshire. But size – big or small – is not what is important or relevant. What happened there is what matters. Bethlehem is where love and peace and hope and mercy and grace and forgiveness took on flesh and entered the world.

We often encounter Jesus in church. At times I will find myself overwhelmed with His presence, tears streaming down my face as we sing a song or hymn. But Jesus is not just in church. He came to “shepherd His flock” everywhere, not just inside the walls of our churches. This leads me to consider where else I have met Jesus. Each of these is my own little Bethlehem – relatively unimportant in the big scheme of things, but very significant to me and my faith. It was once in the balcony of my home church on a Friday night during a retreat. It was once in the emergency room in tiny Torrington, Connecticut. I have encountered God over and over in so many places. Each has been a blessing to me.

This leads me to invite you to take a few moments to recall your Bethlehems. When and where have you encountered the peace or love or grace or… of Jesus Christ? This day, take some time to celebrate and thank God for His presence in your life. May it be a time of blessing for you.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for meeting me in church, in the woods, in the ER and birthing rooms, in the mission field, and in many other places. Thank you God. Amen.


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Horn of Salvation

Reading: Luke 1: 68-75

Verses 69 and 72: “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us… to show mercy… and to remember His holy covenant”.

Zechariah’s prophecy that comes to us today in Luke 1 begins with, “Praise be to the Lord”. His son has been born, fulfilling the promise of the angel. It is a personal experience to go along with all of Israel’s experiences of God being with them and loving them. God was present in the time in slavery, in the time in captivity, and in all of the other hard places that the people have found themselves. Added to that are the many experiences with God blessing the people when they turned to God – the sea parted and the giant fell, the fire consumed the offering and the rain once again fell from the sky.

In our passage today, the first half of Zechariah’s song, he speaks of the redeemer who is about to come. Zechariah says, “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us… to show mercy… and to remember His holy covenant”. Jesus Christ will be that horn. Through Jesus Christ, God will show His people mercy. Through Jesus Christ, God will remember His covenant to love His children and to always be their God. In and through Jesus Christ, the people of God will be able to “serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness”. The Savior will restore people through the forgiveness of sins, making us holy and right with God each time we repent and seek His love and grace.

Prophets often brought change and usually challenged the status quo of their day. They called the people away from sin and back into right relationship with God. Jesus Will and certainly continues to do this – calling us to walk the way of the cross. This day may we each help one more person to know the “horn of salvation”, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, may my words and actions reveal Jesus to all I meet. May what they see lead them to want to know you. Amen.


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focus

Reading: Luke 21: 25-36

Verse 36: “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”.

Advent begins this Sunday. It is a season of anticipation and expectation. It reminds us that we live in a now-not-yet space. Last week’s passage from Revelation reminded us that Jesus “was, is, and is to come”. This connects to our passage today and is a great pre-Advent thought. The Latin word that we derive “Advent” from is itself derived from the Greek word “parousia” – a term commonly used to describe the second coming of Jesus. Our passage today opens with signs that will proceed Jesus “coming in a cloud with power and great glory”. We are encouraged to “stand up and lift your heads” as we await His return. We are encouraged to stand up and declare our faith – to wish people a joyous “Merry Christmas” (instead of the secular “Happy Holidays”) and to focus ourselves and others on Jesus Christ during Advent.

Jesus uses the illustration of the fig tree to keep us focused and looking up and forward. Just as the buds indicate summer is near, we are to look for signs of the kingdom near us. Where can we see hope and love lived out this week? Where can we experience mercy and grace and forgiveness this week? Where can we be signs of the nearness of God’s kingdom, bringing hope and love, mercy and grace and forgiveness to other’s lives this week?

Our passage today closes with another good reminder. It ties back into the “stand up” idea. Maybe Jesus knew what Christmas would become. He warns us to be careful lest we become”weighed down” and filled with anxiety. As a parent I can remember times when I was weighed down and filled with anxiety over the gifts and reactions to them. It can be easy to go there. When our focus shifts away from God and His kingdom, then yes, the day will close upon us “like a trap”.

Instead, Jesus encourages us to “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”. Jesus must ever be our focus during the Advent season. Our eyes and heart must remain fixed on the Son of Man. Our lives will reveal what is truly in our heart and soul this Advent season. May Jesus Christ be what people experience in and through us.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to focus in on you alone this Advent season. Keep my eyes and heart on you and the coming of your kingdom. May my life reveal your Son as the focus of Advent and of Christmas. Amen.


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On Our Side

Reading: Hebrews 7: 23-28

Verses 24 and 25: “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood… He always lives to intercede for us”.

In the Jewish tradition and in some denominations today, the priest intercedes on behalf of the sinner. In the Jewish tradition, the priest would offer a sacrifice for the sin, bringing forgiveness and restoration to that person. Today, some denominations require confession of the sin to a priest who intercedes along with the prayers of repentance offered by the sinner. Together, these lead to a heart that is made right once again with God. All Christian denominations, each in their own way, understands that a “price” must be paid for forgiveness. Repentance and the ensuing forgiveness requires that we sacrifice or set aside something inside of ourselves. We must sacrifice part of our human nature to make more room for the divine nature to dwell in us.

In our passage today, we are reminded of how Jesus Christ was and is a sacrifice. In the opening verses we read, “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood… He always lives to intercede for us”. Ever since the day He died, Jesus has been our great high priest, constantly interceding or praying for us. Jesus is on our side, offering mercy and grace for our human condition. Jesus daily reminds God that He was and is the sacrifice for our sin. “He sacrificed once for all when He offered himself”.

Whether our faith leads us to believe that we need a human intermediary or if we believe that we can go straight to the divine source ourselves, the bottom line is the same. Jesus Christ has paid the price for our sins and ever stands between God and us, acting as our great high priest. His Spirit leads us to repentance and He washes us clean of our sins. He who has been made “perfect forever” is on our side. Just as He is exalted above, may we exalt Him here on earth.

Thank you so much Jesus, for paying my price, for offering yourself for my sins. If I was the only sinner, you still would have given yourself. But I am not the only one. So I join the many today as I offer myself and my life to your service. All praise to the One most high! Amen.


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The Struggle Within

Reading: James 4: 1-3

Verse 1: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you”?

So far in the book of James, he has built the argument that the things in our heart and mind are what guide our actions, control our tongues, and directs our decisions. In chapter four, he turns the discussion towards the disagreements and arguments that mankind often enters into. One only has to watch the nightly news for a short time to see plenty of examples.

James opens chapter four with two great focus questions: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you”? Once in a while we fight and quarrel for other reasons, but most often the battle begins with an internal issue or struggle. Maybe it is something that happened in our past that we haven’t gotten past or let go of yet. Similar events trigger us, pushing that button that leads us to desire to fight and quarrel. Maybe our desire to enter the battle comes from some perceived need or want and our envy or jealousy flares up. Sometimes it has to do with a lack of maturity. I can remember times in my greener years when I’d argue for the sake of arguing and times when I would argue long after I knew I had lost the argument. Pride was definitely at work.

When we come to the edge of a fight and quarrel, James suggests a few filters. We should ask ourselves questions such as these: What am I about to fight about? Is this about getting even? Are these feelings even connected this actual person or situation? Am I being stubborn or prideful? Again, in most cases the urge to fight and quarrel is driven by a struggle or issue within us. When we allow these to linger, they inhibit our relationships with God and with others. Only when we make peace within will we have peace without. James has a suggestion here too: seek God’s help with the right motives. Pray for help with the struggle within. God is faithful. He will rain down mercy, grace, forgiveness, and healing.

Prince of Peace, pour out your peace upon my inner being. Guide me to those that I need to reconcile with. Lead me to speak words of unity and healing. Wipe away all unrest and discord that is within. Help me to freely offer mercy, grace, and forgiveness so that I may receive them from you and from others. May I model your love each day. Amen.